How Are Wood Veneers Made?


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Wood veneer is a thinly-sliced wood layer that we use to cover surfaces to give the appearance of real wood. A veneer may come from thin slices of a log, or it also could be sliced from the bark of a tree. We usually glue veneer onto a plywood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) boards.

On the one hand, veneer presents a cost-effective solution to create wooden surfaces that have the appearance of real wood at a fraction of the cost. On the other hand, there are different veneer grades, depending on the type of wood they come from. Thus, you can get some varieties of veneer that could even be costlier than real wood.

types of wood veneers
Types of wood veneers (Image: Phil Gradwell)

Expensive or cheap, veneer plays a prominent role in the woodworking world. It enhances the life of surfaces, extending the life of wooden structures and objects. It is preferred in favor of laminate by many because of the natural finish, and it can be oiled, varnished, and stained like regular wood.

The thickness of the veneer is usually less than an eighth of an inch. We bond it to a substrate of a cheaper material like plywood or MDF. It gives a high-end look to the surface of materials that would otherwise look cheap. Once finished, veneer looks like elegant, expensive, stained solid wood.

Wood Veneer Manufacturing Process

Wood Veneer
Wood Veneer (Image: Jeff Keyzer)

Wood veneer comes from a mill similar to a sawmill that produces timber. 1% to 2% of the wood that comes from logs goes into veneer. Here is a brief description of the steps involved in manufacturing wood veneer:

Debarking Stage

The tree is selected and chopped down. It goes through a process called “debarking,” which involves shaving off the bark with a machine. The core remains intact in the debarking stage.

Moisturizing Stage

In this stage, we apply moisture to the wood either by soaking in water or using steam. The purpose of moisturizing is to prevent the wood from peeling and tearing when the wood layers come off. After the moisture content has reached the required level, the logs are cut to the required lengths.

Peeling Stage

In the peeling stage, the log goes through a machine called the veneer lathe. It rotates the log, and as it spins, a knife takes thin slices from the wood. There are different types of cuts, depending on the way the trunk is loaded. We name the kind of veneer according to the way the knife cuts the timber.

The knife that works like a giant apple peeler applies a “rotary cut,” The blade that cuts the wood like a huge deli meat slicer performs a “quarter cut.” The thickness of the veneer will vary according to how we adjust the machine. However, the grain pattern, flexibility, and durability vary according to the different types of cuts.

Drying Stage

After slicing the veneer layers, there will still be some residual moisture left in the veneer. Hence, we hang the sheets up to dry in drying chambers. Once dry, we put them into bundles and store them for further processing.

Sizing Stage

Even at this stage, the sheets are unevenly-shaped and narrow. They are then cut to size so in preparation for gluing them side-to-side. We glue them together to increase the width of the sheets.

Gluing Stage

Each sheet goes through a machine that positions them side-to-side and glues them together. It enables us to manufacture sheets of consistent size, typically, 4’ X 8’. Sometimes the veneer sheets come with a paper layer for enhanced flexibility and stability.

Packing And Shipping Stage

The sized and glued sheets are now ready to be packed and shipped out. They will be labeled appropriately, packed into boxes, and the veneer is available for you to use in your woodworking projects.

Types of Veneer Substrate

Veneer substrates
Veneer substrates (Image: Martin Talavášek)

A veneer is a fragile layer on its own. It needs to attach itself to a “substrate.” We get substrates of different materials. We get three different types of veneer according to the substrate:

Paper-Backed Veneer

MAHOGANY VENEER 10 MIL PAPER BACKED 24" X 48"
Paper-backed veneer. See on Amazon.

The veneer has a paper backing. It helps when flexibility is a priority as the veneer attaches itself to sharp curves without splitting or tearing. You can find this sort of veneer on automobile dashboards.

Wood-On-Wood Veneer

Mahogany Veneer Plain Sliced Wood on Wood Backer 4' X 10' (48" x 120")
Wood-On-Wood Veneer. See on Amazon.

We glue veneer to a wood substrate. The substrate wood is typically a cheap grade of wood because it will not be in view. The grain of the substrate will run opposite to the veneer to provide better mechanical strength. This type of veneer finds a place in interior furnishings.

Phenolic-Backed Veneer

Cherry wood veneer 48" x 96" with phenolic backer"A" grade quality (HPL back)
Phenolic-Backed Veneer. See on Amazon.

In this case, we glue the veneer to a polymer sheet. Although there is a fair degree of flexibility in this type of veneer, it is not as flexible as paper-backed veneer, the advantage here is excellent resistance to water. Another advantage is that we can cut it with a knife. A phenolic-backed veneer is useful for interior decoration.

Reconstituted Veneer

Panel Eco-Veneer Wood Modern Slab 28 x 84 | Planum 0010 Chocolate Ash | Use as Barn Pocket Bypass Closet Door | 1 3/5 inches Thickness
Reconstituted Veneer. See on Amazon.

There is a fourth type of veneer that does not come under the category of the real veneer. This variety comes under different names such as “recon-veneer,” “eco-veneer,” or “laminated veneer.”

In all fairness, recon-veneer is real wood, but not the wood that you would expect it to look like. This type of veneer looks like ebony, but it is not. We make reconstituted veneer from “obeche,” a light, smooth-grained wood, with a light color. We can easily press it into various shapes and stain it to give it an appearance of different types of wood.

Although hardcore woodworking enthusiasts tend to look down upon recon-veneer, it enjoys wide popularity due to its cost-effectiveness and durability. Also, we can make it look like genuine wood.

Conclusion

We have discussed the various aspects of veneer in this post. The manufacturing process of the veneer is quite impressive, and you may have wondered how veneer is made. So we have gone into great detail here to explain everything about the manufacturing process.

Now, it should be clear to you how veneer is made. We also touched upon the different types of veneer that you can get. Read more about veneer is another interesting post of ours. We hope you found this information useful and it will help you get the best out of wood veneer in your future woodworking projects.

Featured Image by Anthony Easton

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